Why aren’t we talking about unpaid internships?

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According to The Guardian, last week the government blocked an attempt to ban unpaid internships. So why aren’t we, as students, talking more about this? Perhaps it was overshadowed by the US Election or perhaps we were side-tracked by Toblerone changing the shape of their chocolate bars.

As we are all told on numerous occasions throughout our education, experience is the key to getting a good job. Experience, experience, experience. The main problem, the experience which is so widely sought after by employers, is incredibly difficult to come by. Employers know this but this is what makes experience so invaluable.

This brings me onto unpaid internships. The obvious problem that arises when we discuss unpaid work is the “unpaid” factor and the fact that it tends to lead towards an elitist society. To quote MP Alec Shelbrooke, who suggested the ban in Parliament, unpaid internships allow for a society in which “only those from a wealthy background can gain a privileged leg-up”.

Given the current costs of student life, many students, would not be in a position to attend university if they could not make money by working through their degree. Paid work for students usually comes in the form of retail or catering, waitressing, labour work and the like: not something that professional employers are searching for as a whole. The best of the work experience, the type that is likely to give you the best chances of getting a professional graduate role, can often come in the form of many months of unpaid work. Any student who cannot afford to live without working alongside their degree is instantly turned-off from unpaid internships.

Not only are these internships unpaid but often they are based in London. For someone who lives over 2 hours from London, it’s easy to see why this would be a problem. If you are not being paid how can you afford to live in the most expensive city in the country? The answer is simple, you can’t.

A ban on unpaid internships would remove this elitism. If employers were forced to pay a wage to their interns then this would allow all students to apply regardless of their financial situation, making the system fairer as a whole. So student’s, why aren’t we fighting harder to make this ban a reality?

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